Japan: 17.5 GW of projects set to be left stranded


Japan’s solar sector has had a stellar two years of growth, however it appears likely that a sizeable part of the 69.4 GW of projects that have gained approval under the country’s FIT program will not be built because of grid constraints. RTS Corporation has come to this conclusion after a meeting of a grid capacity working group comprised of Japanese utilities and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which administrates the solar FIT program.

Seven utility districts submitted potential grid hosting capacity for PV projects in their respective jurisdictions and the capacity of solar projects that have received approval, both with and without grid access agreements. In figures compiled by RTS Corporation, it appears that while 69.4 GW of PV projects, totally around 1.37 million arrays, have received approval for FIT payments by METI, only 51 GW of that is likely to be grid connected. This leaves 17.336 GW of projects potentially stranded without grid connection.

In what may be an important caveat, some of those 17.5 GW of projects may go ahead if “unlimited grid curtailment” or battery storage capacity is included as a part of the project.

The utility regions where projects under development are likely to be left without grid connection include those administered by Kyushu Electric Power (with approximately 9.8 GW of grid capacity shortfall), Tohoku Electric Power (5.4 GW), Hokkaido Electric Power (1.7 GW), Shikoku Electric power (421 MW), Hokurku Electric Power (252 MW) and Okinawa Electric Power (250 MW).

Grid capacity constraints have been expected in Japan for some time with last week’s WG determination being the first official indication of the size of the grid shortfalls. RTS Corporation has previously indicated that utilities may be keen to keep some grid capacity in reserve for shuttered nuclear capacity.

Remote curtailment under FIT program

Proposed changes to the FIT program have also been mooted at the WG meeting. These include projects that may be looking to expand capacity or may look to change PV component suppliers. Interestingly remote curtailment capabilities may be required of PV arrays in an expanded number of utility districts. Previously this had only applied in the Hokkaido Electric Power area, and it now includes a further five districts.

RTS Corporation describes the remote curtailment capability as follows: “Obligation to install inverter with remote control function. (It takes time to develop the system and tentatively conventional inverters are allowed to install if project developers committed to additionally install the system.)” The proposed changes to the FIT program have been opened for public submissions, with January 9th 2015 set as the closing date for submissions.

While grid constraints potentially threatening 17.5 GW of projects is significant, RTS Corporation expects more than 50 GW to be installed under the current FIT program and given these constraints.

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